After the early posturing, the bout finally starts as we head from Vise to Tournai. To take us through the race, we have the voice of cycling.
Hello everybody and welcome to the second road stage of the 2012 Tour de France, the very French Grand Boucle, from Belgium. We will be starting from the town of Vise, (thinks Phil- which is surprisingly lacking in information in Wikipedia, so from the Liege tourist) the town situated on the banks of the Meuse river and also the home of the Albert Canal.
This is the day that we'll see the big guns in action, Sky will be going all out with the three of the best sprinters around, Mark Cavendish, the newly transformed super sprinter, Bradley Wiggins and Edvald Boasson Hagen. Lotto Belisol will set their stores out for the Gorilla
, Andre Greipel, and Argos Shimano, the Dutch wildcard team, will be working for their man Marcel Kittel and Greenedge will be up front for the 2011 Milan San Remo winner and perennial second place man Matthew Harley Goss. Peter Sagan has been in very good form and he'll also be looking to mix it up in the quest for the coveted green jersey battle. But don't forget Tyler Farrar, he could end up with a very successful top 10 or could even win the 27th spot.
Indeed so Phil, as for the rest, the mix of Leopard Trek's and Johann Bruyneel's tactical genius should mean that Radioshack set up a perfect sprint train and shell every member of their team with 20km to go for Frank Schleck or Tony Gallopin to sprint to a possible victory. Lotto Belisol have addressed the elephant in the room that they had last year with three different leaders, and the elephant has now made its way to BMC for the Gorilla to come out of the arboreal enclosure and to the centre stage.
Greipel to the centre stage indeed.
One of the attractions near Vise has to be the tower of Eben-Ezer, no known connection to Scrooge,
Tower of Eben-Ezer is a self-built castle constructed in the 1960s by a single man, Robert Garcet, who was fascinated with the Bible, numerology and ancient civilizations, in the isolated Jeker valley of Belgium.
That's not the relic, that may be the builder
Also not far from the town of Vise are the Blegny mines. They offer food, have museums and even cruises. Now tell me that's not unique. For more info- http://www.blegnymine.be/
(I did not receive any funding from blegny mines, not even 150k).
On the left (I'll not let you know which way I'm pointing, just figure it out) we have the mustard fields commissioned by King Leopold the second himself. The mustard was so popular that it has become a popular name, used in all sports from the dodgy Jack Mustard to the almost good Phil Mustard and even flying ace Ernest Mustard.
Further down the road, and shelling nobody left, right and centre we enter the city of Namur, which has a population of 109,765.
Indeed Phil, Namur stands at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers and straddles three different regions - Hesbaye to the north, Condroz to the south-east and Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse to the south-west, and is the home of St. Aubins Cathedral. It's the only academic Late Baroque cathedral in Belgium.
It's also home to Facultés Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix (FUNDP) founded in 1831. Interestingly, one of the most famous alumni of this university is Jacques van Ypersele de Strihou, the Principal Private Secretary to the King of Belgium.
Well, there's a small breakaway up the road, and they're on the hardest climb of the Tour de France so far, a cat 4 hardly does the Cote de la Citadelle de Namur any justice. Anyone getting over this climb in one piece is definitely in good condition, but with Team Sky and Radioshack Nissan Leyopard Trek dragging the whole peloton with them, the break has little likelihood of success and will be wound in by the end.
Just 8km from the Cote de la Citadelle de Namur is the feedzone at Temploux, and google reckons that gastronomy is the most famous thing in Temploux with L'essentiel ranked as the number 3 restaurant in Namur by the website tripadvisor (mind, number 3 could still be sh*te if it's bog standard)
not likely to be bog standard.
Well, with the stage win is still dangling along like a carrot for the breakaway as the race enters the town of Nivelles, with a population of 26412.
Indeed Phil, one of Nivelles' most famous residents is Pipin of Landen, the Mayor of the House of Austrasia and husband of Saint Itta, who founded the Nivelles Convent.
The nave of St. Gertrude, who was daughter of Pipin of Landen, is one of the main religious attractions of the town, and Beverst (Belgium), Geertruidenberg (Breda) and Bergen-op-Zoom in North Brabant honour her as patron. She is also patron of travellers, and is invoked against fever, rats, and mice, particularly field-mice.
Well, the serious racing has started now with the intermediate sprint at Soignies, now these points will be crucial in deciding who wears the green jersey into Paris, particularly with the likes of Sagan now in contention for it. That's why the breakaway is likely to take the points.
Yes, just over 54km of racing to the finish at Tournai, the teams will be going full throttle to reel back this breakaway. Tournai incidentally played host to the finish of stage 2 and 3a (TTT) of the 1966 Tour de France, which were won by
erm sorry, Guido Reybrouck and Team Televizier. It then hosted the start of stage 3b to Dunkirk won by Gerben Karstens. On a more poignant note, it also played host to Wouter Weylandt's last win in the Tour of Franco-Belge.
Tournai is a historic town, and is the home of Childeric I's tomb, which was discovered in 1653. Exhumed therefrom were weapons, jewels, fibulas, a “Childerici Regis” sigillary ring, bees from which Napoleon Bonaparte drew inspiration, a fabulous treasure of gold and garnets that had its ups and downs!
Between 1983 and 1986, digs in the Saint-Brice district unearthed a large necropolis (5th - 7th centuries), and around the tomb royal, several equestrian sepulchres.
The Gothic Belfry at Tournai
We'll leave the second last word to Christian Prundhomme, the tour organiser
As the route goes through Belgium, it will offer possibilities to fighters but it is highly likely that there will be a massive sprint finish at the end of the stage. Maybe those disappointed the day before will take their revenge. When the riders go through Tournai, it will provide us with an opportunity to remember Wouter Weylandt, who had the last victory of his career during the Circuit Franco- Belge in 2010.
It's a battle between the best, Cavendish, Kittel, Greipel, Goss, Wiggins, and even Edvald Boasson Hagan and a couple others, the real tour starts today.
Have a spot the Farrar competition too-
After some nagging, maps for thee